Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 1.7.24

Finally, mercifully, rightfully, Christian Ziegler is out as RPOF Chair, with Evan Power taking his place.

Ron DeSantis’ team is in for a rough night of sleep Sunday night. With his political future in the balance, his camp is expected to be sweating bullets.

After campaigning for months and eyeing the White House for years, DeSantis will find out Monday after the Iowa Caucuses if he is able to shock the world —or whether his candidacy is effectively over.

With anything less than a competitive second place, it’s hard to see a path forward for Florida’s Governor, given Nikki Haley’s strong standing in New Hampshire’s Primary the following week. A poor showing in Iowa by DeSantis would likely be followed by another in New Hampshire. That’s hard for any candidate to survive, much less one who was seen as such a strong contender just over a year ago before his steady free-fall in the polls.

DeSantis this week had an opportunity to go one-on-one with Haley and held his own. Once again, with Donald Trump dodging debates and refusing to engage with his opponents, it was hard to completely rewrite the narrative of the race in one night. But DeSantis performed well enough against the person he’s vying with to serve as the main Trump alternative.

As we’ve said before, however, these solid debate performances have not been followed by any significant poll bumps for DeSantis. The same has been true so far this week. Only now, we’ll have votes to count come Monday, so we’ll have a true read on where DeSantis stands.

This week also saw DeSantis again leave the state during unexpected severe weather. He declared a state of emergency and gave a press conference about the storms, which hit North Florida and the Panhandle the hardest. He took no questions at that presser, then bolted to Iowa to continue campaigning.

DeSantis has shown where his priorities lie since he declared his candidacy. He hasn’t even offered a sizable agenda as lawmakers began meeting this past week for the 2024 Session.

DeSantis may have let his thirst for the White House drown out his desire to actually lead the state he governs. But if Iowa doesn’t go his way tomorrow, he’ll have to quickly readjust his priorities, as Governor is going to be the only gig he has left.

Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.


Honorable mention: Matt Dixon. We want to spotlight Dixon’s book, “Swamp Monsters,” which hit bookshelves and online retailers this week.

We got an early look at the book and put a write-up of our takeaways here, but now the masses can get their hands on the book, which tells the history of the crash course on which DeSantis and Trump now find themselves.

Dixon has been a staple in the Florida reporting scene for years. He’s well-sourced and works his tail off, and that alone should be enough reason to support his work.

But the subject matter is also at the center of the political world right now. Yes, DeSantis’ star has fallen to the point that Dixon had to be wondering whether the Governor would even still be in the race when his book dropped. For now though, DeSantis remains in and convinced he can mount a comeback after Iowa. And, as Dixon notes, DeSantis is likely to enter the 2028 contest should his bid this cycle fall short.

That’s why the background on how DeSantis and Trump went from high-profile ideological allies to the nastiest of Primary rivals is worth a read. Win or lose, Trump likely isn’t going away in 2028, meaning this history will likely remain relevant as DeSantis looks to reboot his political career — or run for re-election. Go buy it.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Andrew Warren. Warren scored a major win this week after a federal appellate court ordered a lower court to reconsider its prior ruling that federal courts cannot reinstate Warren as Hillsborough State Attorney.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t order any relief of its own. But it did send the case back down to the district court to take a second look at whether Warren should get his job back.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle previously found DeSantis violated Warren’s First Amendment rights when he suspended Warren from office. DeSantis made the move after Warren said he wouldn’t prosecute people who violated the state’s abortion ban or who sought gender-affirming care.

Hinkle concluded, however, that the federal courts lack authority to do anything about it. The appeals court disagreed, stating the 11th Amendment allows courts to step in.

The ruling came two days after Warren announced he would not run for his old job in 2024, voicing concerns that DeSantis could just suspend him again. Warren would also have to contend with current Hillsborough State Attorney Suzy Lopez, who DeSantis selected to replace Warren. She is running again, with support from state Republicans.

But if the district court decides to reinstate Warren, that could change things. Would he reconsider his decision not to run?

Either way, this is a big win this week for Warren, who previously saw his federal and state challenges to DeSantis’ decision get shot down.

The biggest winner: Evan Power. Congratulations to the new Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chair, who gets to take over the party during a major election year and at a period of strength for the state party.

After the RPOF decided to discard the scandal-ridden Christian Ziegler on Monday (more on that later), the executive committee quickly settled on Power, who had served as Vice Chair under Ziegler.

Obviously, Power would have preferred having the state party avoid the reputational damage Ziegler caused by his behavior. But circumstances aside, this must have been fulfilling for Power, who has long eyed the Chair position.

Remember: Power ran against Ziegler for the Chair position last year, losing a close contest. The two joined forces to project unity ahead of the 2024 election, an image that Ziegler then shattered. But Power had also considered running in years prior, ultimately standing down when it was clear Joe Gruters had sufficient support.

Now, Power will be given the reins coming off a dominant cycle for the GOP. Things may be more difficult for Republicans in a Presidential Election cycle, but the party remains well-positioned to continue its grip on the state’s political apparatus. And Power is now its face.


Dishonorable mention: Blaise Ingoglia. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And despite Trump’s years of lies to his supporters that mail-in voting is riddled with fraud, Florida’s mail-in voting system is working just fine.

So it was confounding when Sen. Ingoglia put forward a bill to end universal mail voting and return to the state’s old absentee ballot rules. That would mean individuals seeking a mail ballot would have to swear they would be away from their home county, in jail, or dealing with a debilitating condition.

Ingoglia has effectively fronted major election legislation in the past, leaving many to wonder whether the GOP-controlled Legislature would go forward with this plan.

But during the very first day of the 2024 Legislative Session, Republican leadership made clear that Ingoglia’s bill is dead on arrival.

“I have a large number of elderly constituents,” Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said. “We have a lot of elderly people who like the vote-by-mail process and they’re more comfortable, they feel their vote was counted — it obviously was, the people they voted for won.”

House Speaker Paul Renner also shot down any plans to return to the state’s old absentee ballot rules.

Renner did leave open the possibility of enhancing rules to lessen voter fraud, a problem that is not significant enough to swing major elections, but which does occasionally occur in Florida, on both sides of the aisle.

That’s all well and good, but filing legislation to rewrite the rules on mail-in voting to undo a system that has been very kind to Republicans the last decade-plus is the wrong call, especially when Senate and House leaders are so clearly against it.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: NCAA. Sometimes fans take hold of silly narratives in sports that objective observers can easily see through.

“The announcers hate my team.”

“The referees are out to get us.”

“Ohio State won the 2022 national championship legitimately.”

It’s stuff that’s easy to talk yourself into, but in the end it’s just a mirage.

Well, Florida State University (FSU) football fans are beginning to build a serious case that the NCAA is disproportionately punishing them.

First, of course, the brutal exclusion of FSU from the College Football Playoff, a decision that created polarized camps on both sides but ultimately was caused by the ridiculous restriction only allowing four teams in the playoff (a restriction which the NCAA is de facto admitting was suboptimal by expanding the playoff to 12 teams next year).

Now, the NCAA is sanctioning FSU for name, image and likeness (NIL) violations. It’s the first ever such sanction because, of course, FSU is the only team in the country skirting the rules here.

The charge? An assistant coach drove a player to a meeting with an NIL-related booster.

Now, FSU must disassociate with that collective for a period and the coach has been suspended for three games, amid several other penalties.

College teams have been crossing the line and manipulating the rules for decades. In a brand new NIL era, it’s all but certain many other schools are committing similar or worse infractions. And if this is the start of a sweeping series of sanctions from the NCAA, then so be it.

For now, it looks again like FSU is getting screwed. And oh by the way, it’s happening just after the Michigan Wolverines won the championship after its head coach was suspended on two separate occasions just this season for far more egregious violations.

But sure, cracking down on FSU will really clean up the sport. Give us a break.

The biggest loser: Christian Ziegler. After weeks of dragging this out and making the party go through the process of voting to remove him, Ziegler is finally out as RPOF Chair.

The vote was 199-3. That should give you some idea, even in this era of political polarization and defending your team to the death, how much his own party wanted to get rid of this guy. When you’ve got op-eds comparing you unfavorably to Paul Reubens, you know it isn’t good.

A reminder: Ziegler could have stepped away voluntarily, dealt with his legal issues and perhaps made a comeback down the line should he dodge any charges. The party raging against cancel culture probably would have welcomed him back with open arms at some point.

Instead, he was dragged away kicking and screaming. And by raising concerns about the process used to remove him, Ziegler may even be setting up a legal challenge to his ouster, a move that would again drag this saga out in the public square and continue bringing attention to it.

Jack Brill, Republican Party of Sarasota Chairman, spoke at this week’s meeting and summed up his thoughts about the effect on the party.

“Let’s hope this is the beginning of the end of this really sad journey we’ve all had to take in the last three months,” Brill said.

We’ll find out soon whether Ziegler, too, has had enough.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


  • C’mon! If the Ds are actually committing massive voter fraud they aren’t getting their money’s worth!😉

    January 14, 2024 at 6:02 am

    Forget the trite voter fraud occurs “on both sides of the aisle.” In fact every major case has been by Republicans, particularly in the Villages (cough, cough). In Florida, voter fraud is a Republican problem, period.

    • Leonard

      January 14, 2024 at 11:12 am

      Vote harvesting has been a part of the D playbook for many years. According to a Heartland/Rasmussen poll 17% of voters admitted to voting by absentee in a state they no longer live in; 21% admitted to voting for someone else (a practice particularly prevalent in nursing homes); 17% signed ballots for someone else; and 8% admitted to being paid for their vote…and these are only the people that ADMITTED these crimes. In 2020 some states sent ballots to people even if they didn’t request them…this created an opportunity for massive voter fraud (43% of all ballots cast were absentee..the highest in history). We should make Election Day a national holiday, extend periods for in-person early voting; return to absentee ballots only for a valid reason, and replace signatures on absentee ballots with a fingerprint. If you actually care about the integrity of the election process…rather than winning at all would agree that these reforms are needed.

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